The Cajun Permit

There are few people who will argue that the permit, AKA the “Grey Ghost,” is one of the most difficult salt water fish to catch on a fly rod. To actually catch and land one of those is indeed an accomplishment any fly fisherman would be proud of. While we don’t have permit stalking the Louisiana flats, we do have one adversary that is every bit as elusive as the the permit. Ours wears prison stripes and has teeth that  basically look like human teeth. It’s the sheepshead, AKA…the “Cajun Permit.”

While sheepshead may be easy to catch around docks with market shrimp, they are very difficult to catch on a fly rod. First of all, it isn’t easy getting them to chase an artificial bait or fly. Now, I know many people have caught them on artificial and even flies but there are several factors that really make catching this fish on flies even more challenging. First, there are those big eyes. They have good eyesight and are known to feed in very shallow water on shrimp, baby crabs, and other crustaceans (that’s why they have those crushing teeth). They also tend to turn a little on their side while they are feeding which gives them a good vision of their surroundings. So, one must be very stealthy just to get a cast to a feeding sheepshead without spooking it. Another challenge is, well…those teeth. It is extremely hard to get a good hook set with a small fly hook with all those teeth.  The only real chance a fly fisherman has it to get a hook in the fleshy side of the mouth. 7314923468_3bc028cf7f_z-1.jpg

A third reason they are so hard to catch on the fly rod, I think, personally is because they have good noses too and are looking for bait that smells like bait. My flies do not smell like bait 🙂

Over the years, I think I have caught 2 sheepshead on flies. I have, however, watched them follow a fly for several feet, only to stop and turn away. Usually, I’m fishing for redfish when I spot one of those toothy critters and I offer it the same fly I’m using for redfish, which is a gold spoon fly. I have fished a couple of fly fishing tournaments where there has been a special sheepshead pot. Frankly, I haven’t even bothered because I just haven’t been lucky.

Well, that changed this past Saturday. I finally made it down to the marsh to do some fishing. It’s been since late May since I’ve had a good opportunity (good weather, good health, light winds, no work or family-related obligations) to get down to the beautiful Louisiana marsh that I love so dearly. Allow me to pause here to explain why I love our estuary so much. (WARNING: HERE COMES MY SHORT RANT!!)

I don’t only love it only for the fact that we have the best estuary for gamefish, and edible seafood. There is a beauty that envelopes our delta that many people down here, sadly don’t see. They drive down winding roads with beautiful live oaks draped with Spanish moss daily, yet they don’t “see” it. They sadly, fish our marshes and don’t stop to see the beauty this it possesses, and even worse…they use it as their own personal dumping ground. I’ve visited Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona during the past two years and you just don’t see all the trash. It not only saddens me but it makes me sick in my stomach to see the trash along our waterways. OK rant is over.

Here are some pictures I took yesterday of some of the beauty I witnessed:IMG_2871.jpg
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These pictures were taken with a camera phone and really don’t do the subject matter justice, but I think you get the picture (pardon the pun).

OK, so back to my sheepshead story…I arrived at my fishing destination to find that the water was still very high due to the recent tropical system that entered the coast to our east. Additionally, we were experiencing a very high incoming tide Saturday, so conditions were not favorable for site fishing. Places that normally hold a foot or two of water were 3 – 4 feet deep. Add to that the fact that the water clarity wasn’t good and you can see that I had a long day push-poling through the marsh and didn’t get many chances to cast at many redfish. I did manage to catch a couple small ones by blind casting GOPR3951.jpgGOPR3944.jpg

It was getting to be about noon, when I came across a patch of grassy flats that was what I call, “sheepshead rich.” I spooked several nice ones and made a couple casts to others only to watch them chase my spoon fly down and then refuse it. I was determined this time to catch one of these “cajun permit.”  I quickly grabbed my other rod and snipped off the popper I had tied on it. By the way, I had two redfish attack that popper earlier in the day but I couldn’t get a hook-set on either one of them. I tied on a merkin-style crab that I had tied for such an occasion.IMG_2869.jpg

So I poled my way back to my “sheepshead rich” environment and saw two big ones working the edge. I put a good cast between the two of them (about a foot and a half in front of them) and watched as they both moved in to investigate. If you look at my fly you will notice that is has several sets of rubber legs. I let the fly come to rest on the bottom and watched the rubber legs tease one so much it just couldn’t keep its teeth off it. It picked up the fly in its mouth and kind of shook its head like a shark would if it had grabbed a chunk of meat. I strip-set the hook and the darned thing took off like a rocket! It made one or two more big runs and then seemed to kind of give up. I was determined not to loose it so I took my time and played it just right. Finally, I played it right into my landing net. Mission accomplished! GOPR3947.jpg

In hindsight, I wish I would have weighed and measured it because I think it’s my largest sheepshead to date on my fly rod. It felt like it was every bit of five pounds and it also reminded me why it’s NOT a good idea to wear sandals in a kayak because one of those big dorsal fins found its way into my big toe 😦

I released itGOPR3949.jpg
and poled around the area a couple more times to see if I could catch another one. I got one or two more casts off but was rejected, so I tied on a shrimp imitation. I guess all the commotion that fish created and my poling around the place was too much for the fish so I didn’t get another chance at a sheepshead. I explored more water for about another hour and decided that I had had enough for one day. I was able to drive to Thibodaux to visit with my mom and dad for a few hours and then visit my mother-in-law too, so it was a perfect day! It’s not quite on just yet but in four to six weeks, the weather will cool down and the fishing will get hot! I’m looking forward to getting back out there and experiencing what our South Louisiana waters have to offer again.

After I published this, I checked out some of my old pictures to see if this was indeed my largest sheepshead. Come to find out, I have caught several and 2013 was my most productive year.

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This is a small one that ate a spoon fly in the winter.100_0086_2.jpg
Here is one from a different trip the same year.GOPR0293.jpg
Another Leeville sheepshead caught in 2013 on a spoon fly.GOPR3059.jpgGOPR0156.jpg
Well, either way, I’ve got to give my spoon fly more credit than I did. All those other fish were caught on a spoon fly.

 

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My first purely decorative deer hair bug.

So, I put a teaser out there yesterday when I said I’d be posting about what I did when I couldn’t fish this past weekend. I’ve been looking at punk rock poppers and other patterns and I finally settled on a mahi mahi pattern that I saw somewhere on the internet. I actually caught my first mahi mahi on a fly rod this summer and it was a hoot.

So, I sat down and tied this articulated mahi mahi. IMG_2820.jpg

Like I said, It’s my first purely decorative one. Honestly, it took way too long to finish but it was fun. I have enough practical flies for fishing in my box. 🙂 I will be tying at a conclave/expo in New Orleans in April and will donate some flies for Casting for the Cure. I may donate this one or I just may have to tie another one just to prove to myself I can replicate this one. I see areas where I need to improve (like making a better taper in the tail).  Someone asked how did I do the dorsal fin. It’s a peacock sword. I used a very fine wood burning tool to burn a like in the back and then I glued the sword in place using Fabri-fix.

 

Bluegill save the day!

I haven’t posted here in a while. School has started and is going full blast. I graduated some very talented seniors last year and I’m hustling to get this year’s group up to speed. In fact, we had a gig today…after only one week of school. They did get to meet this guy, who graciously took a picture with them. IMG_2815.jpg

Anyway, enough of work. Since my wife was out of town this weekend and my son was working at the hunting camp, I found myself in a spot to do some fishing. I looked at the weather and I felt it was too much hassle to drive 2 and a half hours down to the marsh only to have to fight thunder storms all day. So, I started the morning off in my neighborhood lake. I’m telling you this heat has the bass sitting on the bottom somewhere where the water is cooler. I even saw schools of shad feeding on foam on top and not a single one got eaten (at least while I was observing them) by a bass. I didn’t get a hit. So I switched to a hare’s ear nymph and proceeded to catch a dozen bluegill. Some were real beefy, which made it a lot of fun on my 3 wt.IMG_2811.jpg

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Anyway. Here’s looking forward to some cooler temperatures. Football season starts this Friday, so any early Saturday fishing will have to be done with 2 cups of coffee instead of one. 🙂

I did spend some time during the rain working on a new fly project. I’ll be posting a picture here soon. I’ve got to get a good quality photo of it. I’ll give you a hint: This one will never see the water and I’ll probably donate it to a charitable raffle in the future.

You’re Once, Twice, Three Times a…what?

I just couldn’t resit the temptation to quote a famous song from Lionel Richie but I’ve noticed that for the most part; when I decide to try a new fly pattern, it takes me about three attempts before I “get it right.” That means three times to get my length right, three times to get the proportions right, and everything else that makes a fly attract fish and get them to eat. That goes for most flies I’ve tied, from clouser minnows to fluff butts to crab patterns and wooly buggers too.

Most of you who read this blog know that as of late, I have mainly been spinning and stacking deer hair to make poppers and frog imitations. For the most part, the same rule has applied to my poppers. It’s just I don’t always get the picture of my “first” attempt. In case you haven’t seen them, here are a few of my successfully-tied deer hair poppers.

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The good thing about deer hair is, if I am not totally pleased with my end result, I can just take the razor blade and completely give it a scalping and start over. Now, there have been exceptions to my “three times” theory…like for my first mouse fly: IMG_2687.jpg
My first baby birdIMG_2481.jpg

and my first frog imitation IMG_2691.jpg
where I actually got it pretty darned good the first time I tried the pattern.

That brings me to a variation of the deer hair popper that has been quite frankly, elusive to me, the Dahlberg Diver. Up until now, I haven’t tied them simply because I don’t fish divers very much. I love the topwater bite and the frog imitations and straight-up poppers have provided me with all the action I can afford. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t  try new variations and color patterns. So I decided to try the Dahlberg Diver. I researched the internet for various color patterns and even looked at a couple video “how tos” for some inspiration. Well, I have to admit. I nearly gave up tying divers all together. I wish I would have taken a picture of the monstrosities that I came up with. They were so badly proportioned and I even had two tries where I cut my tying thread while trimming the thing and then had to cut everything else off and start over. Finally, after what was probably my fifth attempt, I got it right.IMG_2684.jpg

I ended up tying two of those in the same color scheme before I figured I had it licked. IMG_2713.jpg

Then I played around with a couple different color schemes. IMG_2702.jpg
ChartreuseIMG_2716.jpg
And Fire Tiger.

In hand, and tied to the end of my fly rod, I am pleased with the results. After photographing and zooming in, I can see where I need to clean up my trimming, but to be honest, the bass will not care! However, with this heat pattern we are in right now, I may have to wait until the fall to give them a try.

Redefining the word, EPIC!

I find the word, epic, is over used by many people. We see it used to describe many things and in all types of media. I think I’ve even used it on a couple occasions to describe a few of my fly fishing trips. My son-in-law has been married to my daughter for over 3 years and he still hasn’t been on an off-shore fishing trip. This man, who loves my daughter and granddaughter unconditionally, has NEVER really been fishing! WHAT!!! Well that all changed this weekend. We had a truly epic trip!!

First of all, Nandi, is a “city boy,” born and raised in Houston, Texas. For probably five years now, we have been trying to show him some of our South Louisiana culture. He has eaten the food, danced at the fais do dos, and he has even caught a fish from a kayak, but I wanted to put him on some real fish from our coastal estuaries. IMG_1109.jpg

We went on a chartered trip with arguably the best captain in south Louisiana, Captain Chris Moran. I have fished with Chris once before (ten years ago) when we chartered him to do a senior fishing trip for my son, Dustin.P1181383.jpg There are only three guys in the picture, but I can tell you we had six fishermen on board and we were happy with the snapper, grouper and amberjack we caught that day. This weekend’s trip blew that one literally out the water. The morning began when we pulled up to a couple of rigs to catch mangrove snapper.

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Here is Nandi with one of the 60 nice mangrove snapper we landed that morning. After that, we targeted big red snapper in deep water. We quickly caught a two person limit (12 fish) and then headed toward a couple of shrimp boats we saw out there. Shrimp boats are usually a place you can stop to put a couple of tuna in the boat. I wanted to catch a few tuna and watch Nandi eat some fresh sushi on the boat. That didn’t happen because the tuna didn’t show up. However, the sharks were very thick (I’ll post a video soon). We didn’t stay long and decided to try to catch some grouper. Meanwhile, I put my fly rod together and passed the time catching hard tails on a streamer that I tied for the trip. Sorry…no picture. We caught one grouper a cobra and a sea bass when we noticed a line of seaweed in the distance. That is the tell-tale sign of the “rip,” an area of water where the somewhat dirty water mixes with the beautiful blue water that sits off the “shelf.” We motored slowly near the weeds lookin for dolphin. No… not bottle nosed dolphin, but dorado or Mahi Mahi.  I kept seeing some small ones but Chris would not stop. Finally, we got to the edge of the weed line and I saw a few more larger dolphin. He slowed the boat and I hooked up with a small almco jack. I released it and all hell broke loose as a school of nice dolphin showed up on the other side of the boat. I made a cast and hooked up on a leaping 24-inch dolphin. After putting that fish in the cooler, I managed to catch five more before Nandi hooked a very large wahoo. We cleared the lines and watched him fight a man-sized fish for a change. He landed a really nice one. I’ve never caught one myself 🙂

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After the rest of the boat caught a few more mahi mahi, two bull dolphin showed up. The captain went nuts and started ordering us around. We kept baiting up with live croakers and sure enough, Nandi hooked up on one. His drag was set too tight and Chris thought he would loose the fish. He ordered someone to take the rod from Nandi. It was OK, because Nandi really didn’t know what was going on anyway. We landed the two bulls and called it a day. Our tally for the day was a six-man limit of red snapper (probably averaging 15 pounds each), a six-man limit of mangrove snapper, a couple of small grouper, another type of snapper (I heard was really tasty), a sea bass, 3 big trigger fish, about 15 chicken dolphin (5 caught on my fly rod), two bull dolphin, a cobia, and a wahoo. THAT my friends is truly, an epic fishing day!IMG_2664.jpg
I wish I would have taken a few more snapshots of some of the fish. Here are couple. The first is a hard tail I caught and the second is one of the dolphin I caught. IMG_9246.JPGIMG_2653.jpg

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The first red snapper of the day…not caught on a fly rod 🙂

 

 

Mice… A Father’s Day Breakfast Treat!

I bet I got your attention with that weird title 🙂 One of the advantages of neighborhood living in Baton Rouge is, many of these neighborhoods have their own lakes and ponds. I am blessed with having two lakes in my neighborhood. I have documented in the past about how good the fishing can be there too. Well the other morning I got up early and walked on over to my bank spot and I found that another gentleman had already beat me to it. No problem, there’s plenty of area to fish without actually getting into someone’s backyard. Well, come to find out I knew that gentleman and we struck up a conversation while I watched him fish. He was fishing with some very large swim-baits, one of which was a giant rat. I commented to him that I had never seen a bass eat a big rat like that and he told me he had caught several on it, including a 7 pound behemoth. He changed to another large swim-bait and I watched him pull out a 3 plus pound bass. This tweaked my interest and I set out to tie a mouse pattern that I could fish there.

I had seen great videos of fly fishermen catching big trout on mice imitations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMvjbz8hG9s I just don’t recall seeing many videos where largemouth bass were targeted with mice. I just had to give it a shot. So I got my vice out and decided to do a segmented pattern using deer hair. Here is what I came up with. IMG_2562.jpg
I know it’s kind of crude for my first one but I planned on fishing it in very low light conditions and I didn’t think the bass really cared. So, I rigged up last night and set my alarm for 4:45.IMG_2569.jpg
I actually woke up early, turned the alarm off and drank a quick cup of coffee before making the five minute walk to the lake. I arrived there around 5 AM and things were still pitch black. The only sounds were the chirping of the frogs and the morning calls of the owls. My first cast in the dark was greeted with an explosion that frankly, I wasn’t prepared for. I set the hook like an amateur and needless to say, my mouse came back to me unharmed 🙂 By the way, It took me a while to tie that fly so I tied on a good, strong tippet. No bass was going to break my line this morning! A dozen casts later and I landed this opportunistic little guy.IMG_2571.JPG
As you can see, it’s still dark out and all I brought with me was a camera phone. It would have to do. Understand, I still couldn’t see where my fly was actually landing and the only guide I had to let me know I had a bite was to listen for the splash. Five minutes later, I heard a very loud splash and I strip set the hook. Immediately, I knew this one had “shoulders” and I felt the pressure of the fish on the rod. I recently bought a new reel and loaded it with a fly line that advertised that it was a 7-8 wt. specifically designed to throw big flies. I haven’t bought a 6-weight rod yet, so I’ve been fishing with an Allen 5 wt. I felt the fish take off to an area where I knew there was a sunken tree. OH NO YOU DON’T!! I’m not going to loose that fly! I was able to turn the fish and after a short while, I landed what I guessed to be a three-and-a-half to a four pound fish. It had a huge head IMG_2572.JPG
This picture doesn’t really do it justice. All I have to judge the size of this, is the same mouse put in the mouth of the only mounted fish I have.IMG_2577.JPG
I’ll be darned but the mouth on this morning’s fish looks to be about the same size or even bigger. By the way…the mounted fish? That’s my personal best, caught about 12 years ago on conventional tackle (before I ever began fishing with a fly rod) and it weighed 8 pounds. IMG_2578.JPG
This morning’s fish didn’t have the girth but it was nearly as long, so I think 4 pounds would be a conservative estimate!IMG_2575.JPG
I wanted to get it back in the water quickly so I didn’t waste time taking more pictures. After all, I was ready to catch fish number three for the day. Shortly after, the sun began to brighten up the morning and the shad came out in full force. The bass feeding frenzy began, but I couldn’t get one to eat the mouse again. I left and was back home for 6:30.

So, my summation of the situation. I think the bass assemble by the dam and wait for the shad to get there to feed or spawn or whatever they do in the slimy foam on the water. Once the shad arrive, there is a gourmet table of live bait that make easy pickings for hungry bass (of all sizes) to eat. During that feeding frenzy, it’s hard to get a bass to fall for foam, hair, and feathers. However, for that magical time when the bass are assembling at the breakfast table and the shad haven’t arrived yet, they can be fooled into eating…a mouse. On a sad note, my mouse lost its tale this morning. No problem, because I can tie another one on pretty easily. Stay tuned for more mouse fishing because…Mice…it’s what’s for breakfast! Happy Father’s Day!

 

Happy Birthday To Me :)

Traditions. It’s what makes us who we are. Every culture, every family has some sort of tradition that identifies us uniquely to each other. One such tradition in our family was each year we got to fish in Daddy’s homemade kayak for our birthday.P1181303.jpg

That’s it on top the car. I thought I had another picture somewhere but this was all I could find. Of course, I’m not in the picture…I’m taking it with my birthday present, a brand new camera of my own 🙂 There are so many things about that picture…oh my! Like my dad’s shorts, my brother Keith’s baseball socks, the white rabbit (that our dog ate for supper one afternoon), and the fact that there are only four (plus me) children. Kory wasn’t born yet. I’m thinking mom looks pretty hot here and lets’ see…Kory came soon after 🙂 I know, T.M.I. and this is supposed to be about my birthday, fishing, and family traditions.

Well, for our birthdays, we could fish with either mom or dad in that tandem kayak. BTW, daddy made it from a kit. I can remember one birthday when dad and I paddled to Lake Boeuf and he pulled under a tree branch to rest in the shade. I was in the front of the boat and there was a huge snake sunning itself on that branch. I freaked out and nearly jumped out of the kayak! Then there was the time when I hooked a monster bass near Lake Des Allemands and mom couldn’t get the net quick enough to land it and I lost what would have been my personal best. However, most of my birthdays were spent fishing a farm pond in Labadieville and it was a special treat to be able to fish out of the kayak.

This year, I decided to celebrate my birthday early. My options were 1) do some sight fishing for redfish in Point aux Chenes, Delecroix, or Hopedale or 2) visit one of my favorite nearby farm pond/lakes. One thing I knew I didn’t want to do was paddle out a mile or so into the marsh and have to haul butt back to the landing and try to outrun a thunderstorm. I chose option 2. With this heat, I knew the bite would be early so I hustled out early and launched shortly after 5:30 AM. Within five minutes, I had netted bass number 1.GOPR3904.jpg

Then came bass number 2GOPR3905.jpg

Then…well… you get the picture (pun intended)GOPR3907 2.jpgGOPR3909 2.jpgGOPR3910 2.jpgGOPR3911 2.jpgGOPR3912 2.jpgGOPR3913 2.jpgGOPR3914 2.jpgGOPR3916 2.jpg

I caught 11 bass and probably missed 8 others. I also caught two bull bream on poppers. After my third big bass, I decided to downsize my popper to the small frog. I continued to catch bass but I noticed they would only slurp the small popper, whereas they smoked the large one! I put the big popper back on before I called it a morning and that’s when I caught that last big bass. Of the 11 I caught, only three were under 15 inches, so they are quality fish! IMG_2563.jpgSo going fishing has been a very important tradition in my life. As I look at my fly rods, I cannot help but think that I relish the peace and tranquillity that fly fishing brings me. I only wish I would have been introduced to the fly rod sooner. As for that old kayak. It dry-rotted many years ago, but the memories it holds are still imbedded in my mind. I’m sure it’s the same for some of my siblings. Now…to continue that tradition with my granddaughter. IMG_4734.jpg
Hudson models her very first monogrammed fishing outfit 🙂